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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

As State Reopens, Contact Tracing Even More Important, Health Officials Say

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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state will ramp up COVID-19 testing capacity this month, and Interim Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman said Friday that's good news. Kesterman said the county will now be able to test people with mild to moderate symptoms who weren't being checked before.

"Where that is extremely helpful is my team of epidemiologists and disease prevention specialists are able to do contact tracing on those folks that are testing positive with mild symptoms," Kesterman said. "We're able to quickly isolate those individuals and keep them out of the public as we start to open things back up."

Some furloughed county employees will return to work Monday to help the health department with contact tracing.

Public health officials have said contact tracing will become more important as the state's economy begins to gradually reopen.

On Friday, Ohio hospitals could once again perform non-essential surgeries not requiring an overnight stay or a lot of personal protective equipment. Dentist and veterinarian offices were also allowed to reopen.

Retail businesses could begin offering curbside pickup or delivery on Saturday and stores that restrict operations to 10 customers or an "appointment-only" basis can reopen.

Starting Monday some manufacturing, distribution and offices that have been shuttered will be allowed to resume operations with strict protocols.

Kesterman was asked about the fate of large gatherings this summer including county fairs, church festivals, concerts and community celebrations. He said he doesn't have a crystal ball on when the state health department will allow those events.

"The reality is some of these events that are planned, there is a large upfront cost that has to happen and sometimes in that scenario the risk is too great to put that much money out for the possibility of a cancellation," Kesterman said. "We know that when you pack a lot of people into a tight area that the spread of COVID-19 is greatest and for that reason, the mass gatherings will be probably one of the last things to come back."

The county can't decide to allow these large events if the state health department will not allow them.

Nick Houser from WOSU Public Media contributed to this report.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.